It’s anybody’s game in Bihar

Notwithstanding the cheers which Prime Minister Narendra Modi received while announcing the Rs.1.25 lakh crore special package for Bihar at an election rally, he will be making a mistake if he believes that the bonanza will ensure the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) runaway victory in the state assembly elections in October/November.

All that it can do is to bring about a marginal improvement in the BJP’s position, for the Indian voter is far too canny to be easily swayed by promises. Moreover, the more extravagant they are, the more suspicious he will be. Besides, the voter is aware that the bounty is for Bihar, and not for any particular ruling party.

So, irrespective of which alliance comes to power, whether it is the BJP-Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)-Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP)-Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) combination, or the Janata Dal-United (JD-U)-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress group, the gift will be available – unless the centre plays dirty.

It isn’t the promise of funds, therefore, which will help the BJP, but the latent fear among the voters of the return of what the party calls the “jungle raj” of RJD leader Lalu Prasad’s rule between 1990 and 2005.

Although, theoretically, Lalu Prasad is a junior partner in Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s government, the preponderance of the Yadavs in Bihar’s social scene – this caste group makes up 16 per cent of the state’s population – gives the RJD a clear edge in political terms.

If Lalu Prasad’s conviction in the fodder scam hadn’t prevented him from contesting, the RJD rather than the JD-U would have led the alliance. As the RJD leader admitted, for him to have yielded the top position to Nitish Kumar was tantamount to swallowing poison. Nitish Kumar, in turn, compared himself to a sandalwood tree which does not lose its flavour even if a snake wraps itself round it.

Although the chief minister later said that he did not have Lalu Prasad in mind when he made the comment, it is clear enough that the relations between the two top men in the “secular” alliance are not all that cordial.

The BJP will no doubt try to exploit this dissonance. But, it will also be aware that the caste loyalties are so durable in Bihar that the backward caste base of the RJD and the JD-U will not be shaken.

What can cause a fissure, however, is the decision of Asaduddin Owaisi’s foray into Bihar politics because the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leader may be able to chip away at the Muslim vote to the detriment of the JD-U-RJD-Congress alliance.

In that case, the vaunted Muslim-Yadav (MY) factor, which has been the key to Lalu Prasad’s success, may be strained.

As it is, the alliance suffered a minor blow when the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) walked out of it in protest against the allocation of three seats against its demand for 12. The Samajwadi Party (SP), too, has decided to have nothing to do with the “secular” combine which suggests, if anything, that the earlier grandiose plans for a new party or a Janata “parivar” were more hot air than anything substantial.

So far as Bihar is concerned, the departures of the NCP and the SP may not be of much consequence to the two main players – the JD-U and RJD – but these mild tremors are bound to please the BJP.

The latter has so far managed to keep the rumblings in its own ranks in check. For instance, the RLSP is no longer pressing its demand for announcing the name of its leader, union minister Upendra Kushwaha as the chief ministerial candidate.

Union minister Ramvilas Paswan of the LJP has also said that he is not in the race for being the chief minister after his brother recommended his name. Former chief minister Jitan Manjhi of the HAM, too, has backed off, saying that only someone from the BJP can hold the post.

The BJP may suffer, however, albeit marginally, because of Modi’s rather unfortunate comment about deceit and treachery being a part of Nitish Kumar’s DNA because of the way the latter broke his alliance with the BJP.

Since melodrama is a feature of Indian politics, it is not surprising that the Bihar chief minister is threatening to send five million samples of DNAs from the hair and nails of Biharis to the prime minister.

Nitish Kumar’s charge against Modi is that the prime minister denigrated all the people of Bihar and not the JD-U leader alone.

Since Modi himself used the issue of ‘asmita’ or pride of Gujaratis when he was under pressure from the judiciary, the media and the opposition after the 2002 riots, he will understand the meaning of Nitish Kumar’s ploy.

Arguably, Modi might have been able to breach Nitish Kumar’s and Lalu Prasad’s OBC fortress with ease as in last year’s general election if his development projects had taken off.

Since these have largely been stalled by the Congress, the no longer Grand Old Party, which is otherwise a minor player in the state, can be said to have made a major contribution to the poll scene in this respect.

Even then, it is still anybody’s game in Bihar with BJP having a slight edge because the Modi magic hasn’t faded out completely.

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